The result is an image of a household pill that is as beautiful as the relief it brings from pain.
To scientists, microscopic images as these may be mundane. But to the rest of us, a glimpse into the world invisible to the naked eye can be breathtaking.
An exhibit of the world's top 20 microphotographs, as determined by Nikon's Small World Competition, opened earlier this month at the Department of State Gallery in Trenton, the only place in New Jersey presenting it.
The exhibit, on a nationwide tour, celebrates the competition's 30th year. The images were selected from about 1,200 entries.
"This exhibit is about the interaction between aesthetics and science," said Shirley Albright, assistant curator and tour coordinator for the exhibit in Trenton.
The collection of 24-by-30-inch microphotographs, magnified between six and 1,500 times, are intensely colorful and intriguing.
"What's interesting is the merging of art and science and the beautiful images of natural phenomena reduced to the basics," said Helen M. Shannon, executive director of the New Jersey State Museum, sponsor of the exhibit.
Study the microphotographs, guess what the subject might be, then be surprised and amused by the explanations provided.
Among the images are microscopic slivers of a flower with pollen buzzing like reddish-brown butterflies around it; dividing algae cells; DNA; soap film that is full of energy, motion, and a kaleidoscope of color as it drains; and the head of a tapeworm, turned aesthetically pleasing. There are also various crystals exceedingly small in size but not in the power they may have in our lives.
The winner is a microphotograph of quantum dot nanocrystals, inorganic particles at least a billionth of a meter, taken by Seth Coe-Sullivan, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Such a particle could be useful in semiconductor materials, in amplifiers, in lasers and other products. The image was magnified 200 times.
The intricate patterns the nanocrystals create could easily be found on a fine paisley silk scarf or a holiday tablecloth. Upon second glance, the matrix of ovals and circles could be a prototype for a funky necklace of tiny decorated footballs mixed with orange and brown beads.
Albright had a different opinion. "To me it looks like charming little one-celled paramecia," she said. "But we are really looking at elongated and spherical crystals."
The beauty of the exhibit, she said, is that it appeals to different people for different reasons. Some may be impressed by the technological prowess behind the images, others by the science, the art, or the aesthetics of the microphotographs.
The 19th prize winner, Pedro Barrios of the National Research Council of Canada, submitted an image of "planarization of patterned silicon-nitride-coated silicon-substrate" with reflected light and contrast. It is basically a wafer made partly of purified sand, and may have electrical or chemical properties.
But its appearance is that of a brilliant, geometrical Aztec pattern whose colors might be a bit too fluorescent to be found on an Indian blanket.
Most of the microphotographers are scientists, but some are amateur photographers or teachers who dabble in the field. In previous years a high school physics teacher captured an award-winning illumination of a snowflake; other winners discovered beauty in tiny particles of Viagra, a rat's brain and mouse semen. This year most of the images are of more palatable subjects.
The winners receive free vacations or sophisticated photographic equipment. The gallery visitors receive a look into a world beyond the reach of their visual acuity.
Contact suburban writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or email@example.com.
If You Go
What: 30th Annual Nikon International Small World Competition Exhibit
Where: Department of State Galleries, 225 W. State St., Trenton, near the New Jersey State Museum.
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through Feb. 4. May be open some weekends in January.
Information: www.njstatemuseum.org, or 609-292-6308 or 609-292-6331. For more on the images, visit www.microscopyu.com/smallworld/gallery.